Safeguarding - key definitions

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Rights and conditions
02 November 2016
Please note that these definitions are not necessarily legal definitions.

Many have been obtained from the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) publication Guidance on Investigating Child Abuse & Safeguarding Children 2009. Where the definition is a legal definition this is specifically stated.

Child – a child is defined by Section 105 of the Children Act 1989 as any person under 18 years of age. Under some legislation the age is lower; usually 16 but child will be used in this guide to include anyone up to the age of 18 unless otherwise stated.

Child abuse – includes behaviour relating to physical, sexual or emotional abuse; or the neglect of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm or by failing to act to prevent harm. It can include violent and sexual offences and those of grooming or harassing children (e.g. by contacting them over the internet).

Physical abuse – may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise cause harm to a child. It can also occur when a person fabricates or induces ill-health, inflicts female genital mutilation or deliberately causes ill-health to a child.

Emotional abuse – is the persistent emotional ill-treatment of a child which causes severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development. It may include informing a child they are worthless or unloved, or cause a child to feel frightened or in danger (commonly in cases of domestic abuse). It also covers the exploitation or corruption of children, including coercive behaviour.

Sexual abuse – involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. It may also involve physical contact including penetrative and non-penetrative acts. Moreover, it includes non-contact activities such as involving children in looking at child abuse or in watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or offences relating to the downloading of child abuse images.

Neglect – Section 1 of the Children and Young Person Act 1933 outlines the offence of "cruelty to persons under sixteen", which incorporates neglect. Neglect is in turn defined at section 2(a) and the offence is committed if a parent, guardian or other person legally liable to maintain a child has failed to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodgings. The failure must be "wilful" (defined as deliberately doing something that is wrong, knowing it to be wrong or with reckless indifference as to whether it is wrong or not).

Pornography - is defined by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 as an image that is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.

Child pornography – is an image that is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal and the subject of the image is a child or children.

Extreme pornography – is defined by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 as an image which is both pornographic and an extreme image. An extreme image is defined as one that is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character. Further details about this type of pornography is set out at section 63(7) of the above Act.

Grooming – is the process of reducing the resistance of a child to abuse. This may be achieved by increasing a child's fear of what might happen should they report the abuse, as well as inducing them to believe that abuse is acceptable. Grooming may take place through personal contact with the child or through other means of communication such as the internet.

Sexting - has no strict legal definition but it involves the exchange of images (whether photographic or video) of a sexual nature through a mobile phone. Arguably sexting also extends to sexually explicit written text.

Self-harm - Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It is a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress.

Sometimes when people self-harm they intend to commit suicide but often the intention is more to punish themselves, express their distress or relieve unbearable tension. Self-harm can also be a cry for help.

Female genital mutilation – (known as 'cutting' and formerly known as female circumcision) is the removal of part or all of the female genitalia for non-therapeutic reasons. It is extremely painful and has serious consequences for physical, sexual and mental health. FGM is reported to be carried out in a number of African countries and in parts of the Middle and Far East.

Typically it is performed on girls aged between 4 and 13 years, but it can be performed on new-borns and young women prior to marriage or pregnancy. It is not a religious practice and leaders of all major religions have condemned the practice as unnecessary and harmful. It is unlawful within the UK (see the legislation section for further information) and is often unlawful in the countries where it is carried out.

Forced marriage (FM) – a forced marriage is a marriage conducted without the full and free consent of both parties. It should not be confused with an arranged marriage which has the consent of both parties.